A haul of garden sundries

Garden sundries? Perhaps the boring side of gardening, unless you see the parallel between growing things and cooking things, in which case garden sundries are the exciting things in your store cupboard, the array of esoteric ingredients which make things happen, the baking powder and the soy sauce.

Neighbours David and Karen have just cleared out a garage and donated to LRSP a treasure haul of garden sundries: sacks of compost, plastic bags of Growmore granules, netting and chicken wire. We can store some of the haul – the bags of compost, for instance – in the lesser gated plot at London Road Station, while the rest will await dryer days in my garage. So what’s in the haul? Here’s a summary of the highlights.

Growing media: We’ve now got two sacks of sustainably-managed peat, a bag of seed compost and a bag of ericaceous compost for acid-loving plants. The ericaceous could be particularly useful if we decide to grow some fruit bushes in pots. Blueberries need acid soil, and many other fruits prefer it.

We’ve also got bags of mineral stuff for ‘cutting’ seed soil and potting compost. Horticultural sand and grit can be added to the soil to improve drainage and aeration, while perlite and vermiculite improve aeration and water retention. They look synthetic, rather like polystyrene, but they are both derived from natural minerals: perlite is siliceous rock while vermiculite is laminar magnesium-aluminum-ironsilicate – so now you know…

These granules absorb water, which prevents water-logged or compacted soil, but also ensures the growing medium doesn’t dry out. What’s more, grit, sand, perlite and vermiculite aren’t too comfortable for snails and slugs to slide over, so these minerals can be piled around seedlings to protect them.

Fertilisers: Fertilisers typically supplement the key macro-nutrients required by plants: nitrogen – for all-round vigorous growth; phosphorous – for root growth; and potassium (potash) for flowers and fruit.

We’re aiming to keep to principles of organic gardening and build up the nutrients in the soil first through organic manure and compost, and only then by using organic fertilisers and finally inorganic fertilisers. But vegetables require high levels of nutrients, so when we were growing vegetables in containers last season, we were feeding the plants regularly. This year, we hope to build up good fertility in our raised beds through the manure and compost we have added in the last few weeks. Nevertheless organic and inorganic fertilisers will be useful, though we’ll hope to use them sparingly.

In our haul, there are bags of bone meal and Hoof and Horn (wonderful name). Yes, these organic fertilisers are what they say on the bag: ground up animal bone, which plants love. Hoof and Horn provides slow-release nitrogen, while bone meal has a high proportion of phosphorous. Both are useful mixed into the base of planting holes. While we’re on the wierd preferences of plants, they also love human hair … well, more precisely, the chemical components of hair (51% carbon, 17% nitrogen) which will break down slowly if the hair is buried in the compost heap. So take a plastic bag with you when you next go to the hair-dresser (tip from the Whitehawk Community Food Project gardeners).

We’ve also got several bags of the all-round inorganic fertiliser Growmore. These granules provide equal levels of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium and can be mixed in the soil or compost at planting as they are designed to release the nutrients slowly. We worked Growmore into the soil at the shady triangle before we planted in June and then again in September, before we put down wood chip mulch. When an organic mulch breaks down, it can leach nitrogen from the soil, so the Growmore should in principle right the balance.

And finally, there’s Garotta. Sounds like something from the nastier days of the French Revolution? Er … actually it’s freeze dried compost fungi and ammonium salts – lovely –I think it counts as organic. It a compost-accelerating powder which helps break down kitchen waste particularly in the winter when it’s not so warm. You just add a sprinkling to each new layer. We’ve now got a big container of it, placed next to our new compost bins – there are more precise instructions for use on the container.

So we now have a well-stocked store cupboard ready for seed sowing and planting in the spring – a big thank-you to Karen and David.

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